A PROPHET TO THE NATIONS

Before you were born I sanctified you; and I ordained you a prophet to the nations” Jer. 1:5

God is interested and concerned for the small things (he made the atoms) and for the big things (he made the universe). He is concerned for everything he has made simply because he is the Creator and takes pleasure in what he has made. He is very concerned for the least noticed of individuals and equally concerned for the largest of nations. So he watches the nations and he weighs their actions; he watches their rulers and their people. He has never “switched off” from that concern and he has never put the world on “auto pilot”.

God’s concern for nations was the very first thing Jeremiah learned when God called him to be a prophet. God told him that before he was born God (already planning for the future) had chosen him to be a prophet and, moreover, a prophet “to the nations”. The calling to be a prophet was a very high and privileged calling. Prophets were privileged to hear what  God was thinking and what he planned to do both with individuals and nations, and in Jeremiah’s case particularly what he wanted to do with the Jews, his own people. And in their turn those to whom the prophet was sent with his “word” were equally privileged. Through the prophet they would receive guidance, support and warning. On the whole the Old Testament Jewish nation (both Israel and Judah) recognized and honoured the prophet and his calling. Sadly, however, only too often they rejected what the prophets were saying when they most needed to listen to them and take their warnings seriously. Jewish leaders were prone to listen to the “false prophets” (self-ordained prophets who had not really heard from God) who spoke to them the things they wanted to hear rather than what they needed to hear. They much preferred the words, “Peace, peace” to the word “Repent!”

But it was not just the Jews that were privileged to hear the “word of the Lord” from the Israelite prophets. It is quite clear that all the surrounding nations were given words of warning by those same prophets. They, too, were hearing of the expectations of justice and righteousness that God required from all nations. They were hearing of the judgements that would come if those expectations were not met.

In the providence of God these prophetic pronouncements to the Jews and to the nations have come down to us in our generation in written form from several of these prophets, forming as they do a very significant part of the Old Testament scripture. These writings cover the best part of two centuries of prophetic activity. Together they form one large, continuous and united flow of the mind and heart of God as he dealt with the nations of that era. They all bear witness to a God who loves and requires righteousness and who brings about severe correction and judgement where they are where those requirements. They are not just of historical interest, though a knowledge of their history is essential in order to fully grasp their message. They are essentially a collection of the timeless principles on which God deals with nations, why they prosper and why they fail. They underline very clearly that God has dealings with the nations and that no nation can afford to neglect his laws. It is this that makes them intensely relevant to any real understanding of our own times. The prophetic warnings given more than 2500 years ago are as applicable as much today as they were then. God has not changed, people have not essentially changed, and nations have not changed despite the passage of time. In fact the similarities in behaviour from then and now are very striking. God is still at work among the nations today, he is still weighing them on the same scales of righteousness and justice and he remains a god who judges evil. How very sad, then, that the prophets remain a closed book for many of God’s people to-day; how very mistaken and foolish that we should think we have matured and those principles no longer apply.

Jeremiah was born to be a person who would hear God speaking to the nations and would be required to speak out what he heard to the nations. He was hearing the “word of the Lord”! The words he spoke had a divine stamp on them; they were beyond human wisdom and human assessments. They were not just relevant to one generation but were valid for all other generations. God does not change – his principles abide.  God’s commission to Jeremiah was very strong: “I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant”. Jer. 1: 9-10. Even as Jeremiah was commissioned with these words God emphasized what he was saying by touching his prophet’s mouth. Whatever the nature of that touch was, it utterly confirmed to Jeremiah that he was indeed speaking God’s word, not his own. He was to be God’s mouthpiece, God’s spokesman, God’s messenger.

In a very real sense, however, this word to Jeremiah was even stronger than endorsing his credentials as a speaker of divine truth. The expression “I have set you this day over nations … to destroy … and to build” almost seems to convey on Jeremiah a power to bring about on the nations what he is pronouncing over them. It is as though Jeremiah himself is destroying or building. The phrasing is quite astounding. What it means is that by simply speaking out prophetically God’s word for a nation Jeremiah would also actually bring about the enactment of the word. By simply speaking judgment as God’s mouthpiece, he would cause judgement to happen. This is understandable if we keep in mind the fact that in principle when God declares something will happen then his very declaration is the first step in making it happen; God speaks and what he speaks comes into being. This is fundamentally how creation itself came into being – “God said let there be light, and there was light”. God in fact underlines for Jeremiah the importance of his speaking out by giving him a vision. It is a very simple but unusual and enigmatic vision of an almond tree (1:11-12). God asks Jeremiah what he sees. Jeremiah replies, “An almond tree”. The Hebrew word for “almond tree” is almost exactly the same as the word “watching”, and it’s as though Jeremiah had said “watching”. God’s interpretation of the vision to Jeremiah was “I am watching over my word to make it happen”. In this way God was making sure that he understood that he was not prophesying mere words but words which God had every intention of making happen. It is indeed astonishing that God should require his word to be spoken out as crucial for it happening. For Jeremiah it was sharp reminder that he was not just playing with words but that his prophesying was integral to what God was going to do. It was a ministry of power, not just words.

Jeremiah was also warned by God of the opposition he would receive as he declared the “word of the Lord”. He was told that the kings of Judah, the princes, the priests and the people would all “fight against him” (Jer.1:18-19. In the main the thrust of the prophecies would be of judgement on nations bent on idolatry and self-indulgent behaviour. It would not be well received, but would be met by self-justification and even hatred and violence. That fact in itself was also ultimately to be enshrined in our Scriptures, that those who spoke up for righteousness would be hated and rejected in a nation that was bent on godless ways.

Bob Dunnett

THE DEATH OF TRUTH

This is a nation that has not obeyed the LORD its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips” Jer. 7:28

They make ready their tongue like a bow to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph in the land.” Jer. 9:3

 God opened the eyes of his prophet Jeremiah as he looked hard at the people of Judah, and amongst the many revelations that both impressed and hurt him was the realization that everywhere he looked there was dishonesty and deceit. When the word of the LORD came to him about this matter it was very sharp and jolting, “Truth has perished!” Doubtless there were people in Judah who were honest and trustworthy but the prevailing characteristic of the nation was an embedded dishonesty. The apple, so to speak, had one or two green patches but on the whole it was rotten. And the rot was growing – it was virtually impossible to stop it. I wonder how we in our own country and in the West generally might score in God’s sight on this issue; how rotten is our own apple?

The fact is that lying, deceiving, dissimulating, insinuating, accusing, backbiting and the like are constantly being exposed in the business world, the political world, the financial world, and the professional world as well as the world of work generally. Ironically most of the exposure comes largely through the world of media which itself becomes more and more hypocritical and deceitful. The emergence of “fake news” has added a whole new and dangerous dimension to all this.

Perhaps the most disturbing feature, however, is the fact that in all these areas many of the very highest echelons of leaders seem to be involved in this deceit and lying. It was, for example, something of a shock that in the motor world the deliberate falsification of the readings of the emission level of diesel engines was not something that came about through dishonest activity in back street garages, but was programmed into the original instruments of the cars during manufacture with the connivance of the people at the highest management level of the most “reputable” of car makers. Likewise the revelation that numbers of M.P.s were grossly falsifying their expenses accounts equally brought shock waves. It seemed that in precisely the places that you would expect honesty and integrity the opposite was to be found. The scam of “injury compensation” touted by unscrupulous lawyers brought defamation to a profession where one would certainly have expected integrity. The notion that those who have the most responsibility should show the greatest honesty is not now a sentiment that is commonly held. When the leaders, makers and shakers, and the role models of society behave without integrity and truth the cancer soon spreads throughout society. A society that cannot look up to its leaders for good examples of living is a society that is in decline.

Lies and deceit are, of course, really the offspring and consorts of other and worse behaviour. Those whose lives are bent at all costs on securing positions of power and influence find that their ambitions are frequently to be gained and kept by false accusations and deceits; it is very difficult for them not to undermine rivals with slander and gossip, and more difficult still to maintain integrity in an atmosphere where it is lacking. For those whose main aim is riches in abundance deceit, lying, falsification all too often become an easy tempting road to success. Adultery or “having an affair” inevitably leads to a destructive web of deceit and denials. What we may conclude from this fact is that a society which can be characterized as dishonest will be invariably a society in which much deeper evils are to be found. Lying is the fungus growing on the deeper decay.

The important question is whether we are looking at something in our nation that has always been there and not exposed, or whether we are witnessing something of a real and serious moral decline. People have always lied, but has it ever been quite so rampant? The answer to the question has been coming from a number of different directions and there seems little doubt there is a consensus that we are in fact seeing a moral decline. The sanctions which kept control over our behaviour have now either gone or been severely weakened. The area of sexual behaviour probably provides the clearest evidence of this. Certainly what was viewed as pornographic only a decade or so ago is now mainstream in all kinds of publications and not just tabloids. Two or three decades ago such publications would have produced an outcry. But in an increasingly self- indulgent money-obsessed society we have seen the loss of sanctions in all directions, and particularly the sanctions which are a crucial aspect of a Christian culture and which have lapsed with the retreat from Christian faith. The Ten Commandments no longer stand tall in the background of life and warn of danger.

When the word of the LORD, “Truth has perished” came to Jeremiah it did not mean that only speaking honestly and with integrity had died among his generation. It also meant that the truth about God has also perished in their midst. Their understanding of God, their fear of God, their trust in Him and their keeping of his ways had all been lost in preference to a clinging to idols of their own creation. People were worshipping what they had made rather than the Creator who had made everything. Their idols were in every way more convenient for their life-style, particularly since they called for no sanctions on their behaviour. On the contrary their idols encouraged loose sexual behaviour along with riotous living. In our own day man himself, the human being, has become the great idol and put centre stage. The human rational intellect is seen as the fountain of wisdom and to be lauded above all else. But man, like other idols, does not in himself bar the way to easy access to sexual looseness and riotous living. The call is now to trust our enlightened grasp of science and technology – this will give us the answer to everything. Philosophy (the love of wisdom) has replaced theology (the study and understanding of God), even though philosophers themselves have made it clear that philosophy is not likely to change behaviour. Ours is a generation which has lost the “Truth”. Pilate asked Jesus, What is truth?” He did not receive an answer, but Jesus had already made the answer very clear in his teaching with the words, “I am the way, the truth and the life”.  God, and God alone, is truth at the deepest level. It is because we have lost the TRUTH Himself that we have inevitably become a people who cannot speak the truth. It is God who hates lies and deceit and demands utter integrity. Without his Spirit we inevitably fall from the grace of honesty.

Remember, Jeremiah is not carrying out an historical survey of Judah; he is a prophet with a message from God, and the message is one of judgement on societies which are too blind or clever to acknowledge their Maker and his ways.

 

Bob Dunnett   09/10/17

POLITICAL CORRUPTION

The foundational pamphlets which brought this website into being were studies of the prophet Amos and his message to the northern kingdom of Israel. That message was of great relevance to our own nation. It took the form of stern warnings against a godless and selfish, money seeking society for which pleasure took precedence over all else. The warnings were of the inevitable judgements of God against such a corrupt society. The ultimate judgement was that the Israelites would lose their land and find themselves in exile. The Israelites were in no mood to take heed to such warnings and they were either ignored or bitterly resented. In the event it was some thirty years from the time that Amos first began to warn the Israelites until the ultimate judgement actually overtook them. During those thirty years, however, there were serious developments in the political life of the nation; developments which should have made them realize they were on a downward trend nationally. Those developments were in themselves judgements of God.

The first of these trends was growing political disintegration. I quote from an earlier pamphlet: “The first sign of the withdrawal of God’s favour from the nation came in the form of political disintegration and loss of stability. On the death of Jeroboam the nation was straight away plunged into political chaos. Within 12 months Jeroboam’s son who succeeded him was assassinated, and his son’s killer and usurper was also assassinated. The latter’s murderer, Menahem, managed to hold on for 8 years, but only in a bloodthirsty atmosphere of brutal civil war. When Menahem’s son succeeded him, he also failed to last a year, and was murdered. His murderer survived only four years before the Assyrians deposed him. Thus the mark of those years was a chaotic struggle among rivals to gain and hold power. This took precedence over everything else, dragging down the nation, and making effective government impossible”. Political disintegration is unfortunately becoming more marked in the western world, not least in the USA (where politics seem to have reached a lock-down), and our own country.

The second trend was of growing political incompetence, especially in foreign affairs. The Israelites badly judged their own vulnerability in the face of the growing Assyrian super power and eventually were responsible for the foolish policies which opened the door to Assyrian conquest of their land.

A third mark of divine disfavour can be found in the debilitating effect of widespread and increasing political corruption in the nation, not least among its political leaders. I quote again from a previous pamphlet: “Hosea, a near contemporary of Amos, and whose main prophetic activity was at its height during these decades of collapse, sums up the situation with Israel’s leaders in a few terse comments: “their rulers dearly love shameful ways” (4:18); “Judah’s leaders are like those who move boundary stones” (5:10); “They delight the king with their wickedness, the princes with their lies. They are all adulterers, burning like an oven …On the day of the festival of our king the princes become inflamed with wine … (7:3-7). Thus the personal degradation of the rulers was very marked were dishonest, they were dissolute, they were drunkards, and they loved it. They were arrogant. Justice and integrity had died. There was no political integrity because there was no personal integrity. The two, of course, can never be disassociated: humanity cannot keep corruption confined to one compartment of its life – it spreads all over. It is a sign of decadence when politicians insist that public life and personal life can be held in separate compartments.

I am writing this on the same morning that the resignation of our Defense Secretary and a senior Minister of the government has been announced. His resignation is due to the “sex scandal” among members of parliament. The same appalling “sleaze” which has been has been exposed at Hollywood threatens to rock the very centre of our government. More exposures are expected; and all this at a time when the stresses and strains of government are at an extreme level with disintegration not too far away. The situation is distinctly disturbing.

Has this behavior always been there? Many would say, “yes!” But many would suspect it has reached new levels. Sex is “in the air”, and open in a way that it has not been before. It certainly points at moral corruption. But does this exposure amount to a new moral beginning? Are we to see a new moral outlook? Or is that taking optimism too far? I suspect it is. The fact is our present position mirrors Amos’s position only too well. We are seeing only too clearly an aspect of the judgement of God.

Perhaps I should add a further quote from the pamphlet mentioned above: It was not political corruption in high places alone that marked the years of rapid decline, however. The corruption was endemic in the whole nation. Greed and gain among the rich provided not only a degenerate example to the less affluent, but drove those who were poorer to evil ways in order to keep up or even to survive. In this way corruption led to violence. Hosea again paints the picture: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds and bloodshed follows bloodshed” (4:1-2). The corruption and evil with which the nation had lived for fifty years, and by which it had lived a profligate lifestyle, was now to become part of the cancer which was to render it incapable of a strong response to the danger it was to face. The political leadership was absolutely incapable of addressing these deep moral and social issues: it was actually itself a part of the problem”.

The signs are all there – time is running out!

 

Bob Dunnett                  02/10/17

“HE GAVE THEM OVER ……”

In his letter to the Romans Paul makes some incisive and disturbing observations about the pagan and Gentile world in which he found himself preaching as an apostle of the gospel of Jesus. They are increasingly appropriate for today’s world in the West. He noted that “the wrath of God was being revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who were supressing the truth by their wickedness” (Rom 1:18). Their “suppressing of the truth” lay in the rejection of the Creator God despite all the evidence of His power and nature in the creation around them. The pagan world had rejected God and made its own idols; it “served created things rather than the Creator”. Paul goes on to say that God’s response to this was “to give them over to their evil desires” and their destructive consequences. This was a first stage in his judgement, or his wrath.

Paul goes on to itemise some of those evil desires that were drawing down his wrath. It is noticeable that the first of these is impure sexual desire. It is a fact that sexual immorality is always very pronounced in every society that we have been accustomed to call decadent. It was certainly very evident in the “classical” Gentile world of Paul. Not that a decadent society necessarily sees itself as decadent! It always has some excuse or rationalisation of its sexual permissiveness. The modern excuse is “human freedom”! For Paul impure sexual desire is everything that is indulged in outside of a marriage bond and outside of a “natural” relationship. For him it was the first marker of a society going downhill, the first sign of God’s displeasure.

I do not think it would be out of place to say that Paul would have made the same observation about our own society. He would have seen ours as a society increasingly obsessed (“given over”) with impure sexual activity of almost every kind. In an interesting book entitled “Full Circle”, by a note classicist called Ferdinand Mount who has no particular Christian bias, the author finds an extraordinary similarity between the Graeco-Roman world (which was Paul’s Gentile world) and our own. Amongst many other aspects of life he finds a marked similarity of wide sexual licence. His general thesis is to demonstrate how remarkable a likeness our modern society has to that pagan world – we have come “full circle”. We would want to add to his thesis, however, that the reason for this is that the historic Christian structures have fallen badly to pieces in the last half century.

In the last two or three weeks alone there have been some gross examples of the symptoms of the sexual decadence which markedly underline our present predicament. The first of these was the media treatment of the death of the founder of Playboy Magazine, a man who had made a huge fortune out of his pornography and who had created a “castle” in which he played out his sexual fantasies surrounded by women who seemed only too happy to be demeaned by his behaviour. Not only was he was given a full obituary by normally “respectable” outlets but the obituaries all spoke in terms of a celebrity career of lively interest. His had been an OK life. Not one word or hint of reproach.

A second example followed quickly. A reputable T.V. channel showed a documentary on Amsterdam. As might be expected it started in the art galleries with an interesting, though short, focus on Rembrandt. It went on to depict the wealth of the merchants, architecture and an industrious sea-faring nation. It skipped along at no great depth, but it finally ended in the red-light district of Amsterdam. Most people are aware of this feature of that city but not with open approval. It was very much, however, an attraction to the programme makers and sponsors. It was given more than a fair share of time and its seamy side was hidden in what was almost a glamorisation of the business of “sex workers”. It ended with the presenter sitting in the shop window to advertise herself to the men passing by. This was obviously seen as good avant-garde TV and rather “amusing”. It followed the general bent that somewhere somehow sex has to appear in publications: it helps to sell.

A third example is more distressing. Recent press articles have indicated an alarming increase in the levels of pornography which are being watched young children as well as adolescents. They have also focussed on the sharp increase in sexual bullying and assault among the young. Children have always, and naturally, been inquisitive about sex – it is part of growing up. But clearly we have moved into a much more harmful and deeper phase. It does not bode well for the society in which they will eventually be adults, nor does it bode well for them individually. Add to all this the extraordinary confusion about sexual identity and the dubious sexual education for the very young being fostered in schools and we have a picture of a society that perhaps even the ancient world might look at with some dismay.

I venture to say that our society has been “given over” to its demands for “sexual freedom”. Ever since the “Swinging Years of the 1960s” the trend has been steadily downward. The “sexual freedom” has not had quite the results its proponents imagined. The truth is that it has broken many lives and in particular it has had very serious effects in the break-up of family life and consequent damaged children. In the process of “freedom” some 5 million children have been aborted. But the truth is hidden away and any mention of it is aggressively dismissed. However, if we sow to the wind we reap the wind!

We need to remember the starting point of all this. Paul is very clear about it; it is the rejection of God, the throwing off of restraints and the raising of our own idols. The rejection of God has grown apace alongside the demands of sex, and the judgement grows apace. The apple of sexual freedom looks good to eat, but it brings about destruction.

Our prayer for spiritual revival and the mercy of God are at a premium.

 

Bob Dunnett

NORTH KOREA – A WARNING BELL?

The last blog featured the apocalyptic horsemen of Revelation.  Apocalyptic though it may have been, it spoke clearly about the world we live in!  This week’s blog features a real life illustration of the warning behind one of those apocalyptic horsemen.  I have in mind the current North Korean threat which seems only too well to relate to the red horseman who took peace away from the world.

Why has such small country, exactly half the size of the UK and with less than half the population of the UK, suddenly become the source of much apprehension and alarm in the world?  It has become a powder keg big enough to blow apart the delicate balance between much greater super-powers who have atomic weapons and have learned, so far at any rate, to live without using them.

The first reason we can give is that North Korea is geographically in a prime strategic position between China and the USA. The USA has great influence in the Far East on account of its military presence and connection with South Korea and Japan.  This has always been an embarrassment to the rapidly developing China. North Korea (attached to the Chinese border) is something of a buffer against this USA presence and China watches North Korea’s independence of the USA very closely and jealously.  The Chinese are not prepared for North Korea to come under American influence. This has been the case ever since the Chinese unleashed their army to control North Korea in the early 1950s when the US army looked like taking the whole of Korea from the communists. The border between North and South remains an impregnable flash point nearly 70 years later. Thus, because of its communist affinities with China and because of its border with China, North Korea has been able to develop relatively undisturbed, and in particular able to develop its atomic weaponry.  Hidden and shielded it has grown into a monster.

Perhaps a more crucial explanation of its present threatening behaviour lies in the nature of the political structure and its philosophy which has developed since 1948 when the North was separated from the South by a U.N. resolution.  In the seventy years from that resolution there have been three generations of ruthless autocratic government centred on one family.  Their power is absolute and the veneration of them is constantly demanded of the people (and seemingly willingly given); two huge statues of the two “Kim”s that have died are placed in the area of the central government buildings and Koreans constantly kneel before these statues. Elsewhere there are 70 bronze statutes and tens of thousands of other monuments of the founding Kim further encouraging this pseudo-religious personality cult.  The founder is called the “Eternal President” and his son “The Eternal General Secretary”.  It is a type of idolatry that recalls the Pharaohs of Egypt and other god-like rulers of history. This is a communism with an extraordinary idolatrous twist.

Alongside this, the vulnerability of the nation has inevitably led to an autocracy which is very heavily militaristic.  For its size North Korea has an enormously powerful army, ready and fully equipped, presenting a massive threat to South Korea. The military is the one great boast of the regime to its people.  This is part of the ideology of “Juche” (self-determination or self-reliance and “action with reference to no other power”).  All this has been achieved through immense deprivation among the people of North Korea. The development of atomic weaponry which is a threat to the USA is a crucial part of this militarism.  It is seen to be a critical factor in undergirding the regime, and it will allow North Korea to put enormous pressure on South Korea and even to get it under the North’s control.  The unification of Korea has always been a prime aim of the Kim.

After so many years of such entrenchment and development the fact is that the world is in very real danger; a deluded autocrat with an iron grip on his country and with a deadly ambition of the most destructive type is a world threat.  The present Kim is more likely to die in the destruction his ambition brings than to give it up.  Talking to him is highly unlikely to bring about a change of mind;  and mockery of Kim by the USA at Presidential level is certainly not helpful; it can only harden the determination of the dictator.

However, there is one great weakness for the regime.  It is not in any way a self-sufficient economy; indeed it has been very heavily dependent on outside aid and support from its inception. Starving the economy of an already starving population would inevitably bring huge pressure on the regime. China, though reluctantly, is at last tightening its grip and making its sanctions bite (this week it has sent home all the N. Korean business men – or so it seems).  The question is whether the sanctions will achieve their aim and prevent Kim getting together his atomic warhead and long range missiles or whether they will be too late. The situation is critically poised.

What I have written so far is an analysis of the human factors in the situation; is there a “spiritual analysis?  We might make a start in that direction by asking how it is possible that men of the stamp of Kim, deluded and destructive, gain power and control?  Why do they appear? History has always been full of them.  The 20th century had a surfeit of such rulers, and the 21st century is following suit.  The answer lies fundamentally in the fact that “the whole world lies in the hand of the evil one”. “The Prince of this world” is active in the human principalities and powers (rulers and leaders) of this world by means of the principalities and powers of the unseen world.  The “unseen spiritual powers” impinge on the “visible human powers” and bring their evil character to them.  So this world’s rulers very frequently live through imposing fear and violence both on their own domain and on others.  Satan’s imprint is to be seen in many other ways.  We need to give full weight to the fact that Satan was able to offer all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus in an effort to thwart the coming of the Kingdom of God.  Sadly this kind of fundamental truth is all too often lost in much of our secularised Christian thinking.  But Satan is the Prince of this world, a world ruler, and he has placed many tyrants in power in that world. Thankfully it is also true that God is God and has the ultimate rule over the world and over the Prince of this world and what he can do.  When God allows Satan to raise up destructive leadership in nations (or even confusion in a nation) it is always in order that God’s purposes might be fulfilled.  In particular he allows such happenings as a form and measure of judgement on the world.  We have very clear examples of this in the rise of Assyria and Babylon in Old Testament history.  It is God who writes the essential narratives of history, and he is writing our current history! “His judgements are in all the world”!

Professional historians are given to debating whether events are caused by momentary human decisions or by long term trends or by some combination of both. For them God is not a factor. And for all their historical knowledge they can never be accurate in forecasting events. But for us God is the fundamental factor, the key to proper understanding of events.  Thus with regard to the present great danger, we cannot say for sure how the Korean threat will ultimately work out. Any number of contingencies are possible, some leading to peace, some to destructive war. But the essential fact is that God holds the reins . The decisions that matter are always made in the courts of heaven, not in the ruling bodies of humanity.  It is for this reason that we must address ourselves to having a clear spiritual analysis and, as a watchman for the world, to seeking God for his mercy.

The one thing we may be sure of is that the situation with Korea is a warning bell from God!

 

Bob Dunnett

HEAVEN’S THRONE-ROOM and EARTH’S PLIGHT

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 of the Book of Revelation give us an unparalleled and clear vista of the glory of God’s heaven and the contrasting devastations of the earth on which we live. They give us immense hope for the future and a sober warning for the present. The prophetic symbolism (unlike much of Revelation) is very clear and does not require any “clever” interpretation; the implications are all too evident.

Chapter 4 shows us a throne in heaven.  The first thing we are told is that it was encircled by an emerald rainbow – a sign of mercy and goodwill.  The Person on the throne sparkled like jewels of contrasting reds (jasper and ruby), and the sight was threatening.  From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder; these were certainly threatening. In front of the throne were the blazing lights of the sevenfold Holy Spirit – an awesome sight.  Glory, power, judgement and mercy are all interlocked in this vivid sight.  All heaven and earth is seen giving praise, honour and worship to the One on the throne.  It is a vision of God in terms which we mortals can understand and to which we can relate.  This is the great eternal God who alone rules and is truly to be feared but who offers mercy.  The major impact of the vision was one in which the holiness and awesomeness of God was dominant.  It must have been a life changing moment for John to whom the vision was given.  It reminds us that we all need a vision of God that enters deep into our hearts, in whatever way it may come.

Chapter 5 moves the vision further on. Standing at the very centre of the throne was a “Lamb looking as if it had been slain” – unmistakably the crucified Jesus, but now very much alive and at the centre of power and glory.  He had seven horns (complete fullness of power) and seven eyes (symbolising his utter oneness with the Holy Spirit). The Lamb took a scroll from the hand of the Person on the throne and prepared to open it, for such was his unique privilege.  The scroll (as the succeeding chapters show) was what was determined for the future on the earth, and the Lamb alone could open the scroll and bring that future to pass.  As he took the scroll all heaven and earth ascribed to the Lamb and to the One on the throne “praise and honour and glory and power”.  Nowhere in the New Testament is there anything to surpass this majestic picture of Jesus, or to surpass the picture of his divinity, power and rule in this world.  For John, suffering persecution, it would have brought an immense depth of comfort and strength.  It may well be that we shall need for ourselves in the future this sort of clarity of vision of the reality of the power of Jesus; indeed for many in the world it is essential in their present sufferings.

Chapter 6 brings us to the scene where the Lamb starts to open the seals which fasten the scroll and in this chapter the lamb opens six of seven seals to reveal the essential features of the future of the world; the seventh seal (the final episode of what is planned for the earth) is kept over for much longer treatment.  The first of these seals is opened to reveal a white horse whose rider held a bow, was given a crown and who rode out to conquer.  There has been discussion over this but in context it seems clear that this represents the conquests of the gospel.  The white horse contrasts very sharply and favourably with the garish colours of the next three horses who are to follow, and in Revelation 19:11 the white horse appears again and its rider unmistakeably identified as Jesus, the Word of God. The message is clear; the gospel of the Kingdom will make conquests in this world.  It is most fitting that this good news with its certainty of the extension of the gospel in this world is announced first.  Jesus has come to conquer, to gain a crown befitting the King of Peace, and whatever else may happen in the world this gathering in of a kingdom of believers will take place.  We have now seen some two thousand years of this conquest of the gospel, and in our own generation there have been more conquests for the gospel than have ever been seen before.

The next three seals which the Lamb opens are a marked and unpleasant contrast.  On these three occasions we see first a fiery red horse whose rider makes people kill each other – a picture of the wars that are to come.  This is followed by a black horse whose rider holds a pair of scales; there is a shout indicating shortages and rising costs. It’s a picture of famine on the earth.  When the fourth seal is broken there is revealed a pale horse whose rider is called Death and who is given power over a quarter of the world’s population to kill by sword, famine, plague and wild beasts.  The overall picture given by the opening of these three seals has been precisely the story of world history ever since John’s Revelation was written.  Moreover it echoes precisely the prophetic statements made by Jesus during the week before his crucifixion.  This the reality of the world in which we live.  The vision of John should never leave us in a mind-set of unalterable “fate”, for the rainbow is always over the throne and the Lamb is always open to the cries of his people.  Those of us who love peace should never cease to work and pray for peace in the world, and there can be no doubt that such work and prayer will yield fruit.  There is always mercy in wrath.  But we should not be taken by surprise nor offended at what we see happening in the world around us.  God has forewarned us.

There is a fifth seal which the Lamb breaks open and which reveals a further feature of the pattern of history. This takes the shape of a vision of the souls of those who have been conquered by the gospel and followed the Lamb but who have been killed for their testimony.  Persecution of the people of God has always been part of the spread of the gospel. Jesus himself was the prime example, though even throughout Old Testament times it was feature among those who kept close to God and announced his word.  Jesus himself during his earthly ministry underlined the fact of persecution in his teaching.  Again this awful truth should in no wise prevent us from praying earnestly for those who are being persecuted, or those in danger of such persecution.  On the contrary it should instil in us a deep sense of commitment to pray for them and to seek God for their strengthening and their release.

The Book of Revelation may be difficult in parts, but it is a book very much for the uncertain times in which we live. It’s prophetic clarity and accuracy is quite breath-taking.  It sets out the world scene with a very great deal more of reality than the normal secular historical survey.  Its real grandeur lies, however, in the great statements of the new creation that is to come and the glory that surrounds it.  It offers the hope of becoming part of that new creation and its inexpressible joy.  The note of hope is so much bigger than the note of the judgements, but that latter note is needed, nonetheless.  More of that anon!

 

Bob Dunnett

WISDOM FROM HISTORY

I was much impressed this week as once again I came across the proclamation by Abraham Lincoln when faced with national chaos in the midst of the American civil war. I was struck by the sheer spiritual stature of the man and equally struck by the spiritual stature of the members of the American Senate. It was a remarkable outburst of the spiritual DNA of so many of the first settlers on that Atlantic sea board: that DNA was a simple but real faith in the God who brought them to, and watched over them in their new land. It is printed in full for your consideration, some parts are highlighted in bold print, and at the end I have made a few concluding comments. I hope it speaks to you and challenges you afresh in the same way I found it challenging me. It is much more than just a bit of history!

 A Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America

For a Day of Prayer and National Humiliation

Fasting and Prayer *

(* This was made in 1863 in the middle of the very bitter American Civil War)

 

Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behoves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

Comment

As the President stated, blessing on any nation is tied to its acknowledgment that God is its Lord. This is the same for individuals. Faith and trust in God accompanied by obedience to the standards he has set before humanity is the royal road and only road to blessing, national or personal. When we jettison God we jettison our blessing, for God rules the world and its nations on his own principles. This is as true for “Christian” nations as for others. Indeed for those who have known and walked in God’s ways and then deliberately turn from them and forget God, the inevitable outcome of judgement is even greater.

This is precisely the matter that the Proclamation faces up to; “We have been preserved, these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God”. Lincoln is speaking for the nation as a whole, the nation as it had become before the outbreak of hostilities. He clarifies the situation with the words, “We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!”

 There could not be a more prescient and accurate statement to describe our own present situation in our own nation at this time in its history. We are not in the midst of a civil war, but we are certainly in the midst of something akin to political civil war with turmoil, confusion “drawn daggers” and treachery. The hope of strong leadership that did seem to be present at one point has now been broken. The outlook is very bleak and threatening. The real tragedy, however, is that there is at this time no one of the spiritual ilk of Lincoln in national leadership, no phalanx of spiritual thinking such as was present in the U.S. Senate when it formulated the Proclamation and laid bare the real heart of the national problem. With us there has been not only a forgetting of God and his ways, but a deliberate embracing of a secular anti-God position along with a dilution and discarding of his moral commands. Indeed the marginalisation of our Christian heritage has begun and is fast increasing. Judgement stares us in the face, judgement that could cost Christians dearly.

This presents the church of God with a massive challenge, for there is nothing left but the church. There is no room for a “National Day of Prayer” of the kind Lincoln proclaimed; we simply do not have the required spiritual capital left at the national level. The church has to step in. It requires two things of the church: a prophetic voice in the nation that refuses to be silenced and a recourse to prayer of a kind we have not been generally used to. The real danger, however, is that we have not yet fully woken up to a full grasp of what the current chaos will lead to. Until we do wake up to the position the motivation to such prayer will simply not be there.

 

Bob Dunnett

 

To be continued

A PROPHET WRESTLES WITH JUDGEMENT

“I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians” Hab. 1:5-6       

Does he who disciplines nations not punish?” Ps 94:10

Habakkuk, the prophet, was a godly man who had a deep hatred for violence and injustice (Hab. 1:1-3). But unhappily, he saw both violence and injustice all round him in his own nation of Judah. Distressed he was driven to cry out to God for help for his nation (intercession is the primary function of the prophet!). He wanted to see wickedness, law breaking and strife removed. He understood the fact that God hated evil and would judge it, and he was longing that the evil-doers in the nation might be judged and removed so that life might be peaceful and godly. That’s what he was praying. There are many such people in our own nation, for whom we should be profoundly grateful.

However, God did not answer in the way he wanted. His prayers were heard, of course, and God spoke to him because he was praying. But what Habakkuk heard was something that he found incredibly difficult to accept or understand. Indeed God began to speak to him by telling him to “watch the nations” and saying, “I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if it were told you”. God went on to reveal to Habakkuk that He was raising up the terrifying nation of Babylon (1:5ff). Furthermore, though Habakkuk already knew what the Babylonians were like, God actually spelt out just what a terrifying power they were; “They are a feared and dreaded people ….. They all come intent on violence …. They mock kings and scoff at rulers … They laugh at all fortified cities …. Guilty people whose own strength is their God”. It is not clear whether God himself actually said Babylon was going to be a judgement on Judah, but, in a sense He did not need to. Habakkuk himself instantly recognised that the intention was that Babylon would be an instrument of judgement and purging, and, worse, that Judah would be in the line of fire; he said to God, “You, LORD, Have appointed them to execute judgement; you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish”.

Even as he spoke it out, however, Habakkuk immediately protested to God at such a thought; how could it possibly be right that such a nation as Judah should be so afflicted? Even if it was full of faults it was nothing as remotely as evil and violent as Babylon. (vv12-13). If God had said he was going to use Babylon against nations other than Judah probably Habakkuk might have grimly accepted God’s word. But Judah was a different matter!

There are really three or four issues raised by this prophetic conversation. The first is fairly simple, but not always appreciated in modern thinking, even in modern Christian biblical thinking, and that is that God punishes nations. He watches them, he blesses and protects them, but he also judges and punishes them in disciplinary fashion. The latter fact is very adeptly summarised by the psalmist, “Does he who disciplines nations not punish?” (Ps 94:10). God is deeply interested in what nations, and their leaders, do, and he responds to what he sees. Habakkuk had no problem with understanding this. For many of us, however, so saturated in the modern liberal historical rationality, this sort of thinking can be quite a leap. But there can be no proper estimate of the direction of world affairs without this essential biblical perspective. The scripture that stands out so pertinently in this respect and demands our attention is “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people”.

The second issue raised by Habakkuk relates to the severity of the judgement that God meats out to the nations. Habakkuk found this a problem. He was very much aware of the nature of the Babylonian “war machine”, its uncompromising cruelty towards the people it attacked, its complete annihilation of cities, its devastation of the countryside, and its ruthless deportations. If this were loosed on Judah nothing would be left. How could God do such a thing? War of this kind was probably the worst kind of judgement. Habakkuk could not believe God could do such a thing or be responsible for it. The natural horror of such a happening seemed to blind him to the fact that Judah’s sister nation, Israel, had been overwhelmed by an equally cruel Assyria in precisely this manner a few decades previously and it still lay for the most part devastated and deserted. Perhaps Habakkuk had accepted that conquest as a judgement because he had never realised the sheer horror of the event, nor did it directly affect him. But now he did realise how horrific was the idea of Babylonians coming to Judah. The sheer thought of it was more than he could handle. That is precisely the problem that we ourselves find so difficult when we come to contemplate the judgements of God. How can God allow such appalling distress and suffering? At such times we need to recollect that God is always “slow to judge” and reluctant to punish, that he speaks judgement through tears because he knows the pain it will bring; and even more that in judgement he frequently offers restoration. But the main lesson needs to be learned; God’s judgements can be very severe indeed. And from a disciplinary point of view they are necessary to remove the rot, in this case the idolatry of Judah. The history of every nation bears very adequate testimony to such severity of judgement. God is very severe on unrighteousness, and the discipline required needs to be very hard. It is probably one of the most difficult lessons we have to learn, and we wrestle to receive it. Such was the experience later of Jeremiah when he sat among the ruins of Jerusalem after the Babylonians had actually laid it and its people waste.

The third issue (and the most difficult for Habakkuk) is that an outright evil nation (Babylon) could become the scourge of a nation (Judah) that was much less evil. God gave Habakkuk some re-assurance on this matter by showing him that Babylon would in its turn be judged and that unlike Judah would never be restored. Habakkuk was able to hang on to the eventual restoration of his nation. The total destruction of nations is not frequent but neither is it unknown biblically. It has happened, but for the greater part the judgements on nations for all their severity remain disciplinary.

To say that Habakkuk “hung on to the restoration of Judah” is actually to belittle his eventual position after all his wrestling. At the very end of his prophetic writing he accepts the judgements and God’s purposes, and says that, whatever devastations and shortages may come with the judgements, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my saviour” (3:17-19). If he did in fact live to see the destruction of Jerusalem no doubt that resolution would have been severely tested, but looking at the dark future before his own generation he was determined to live in the joy and strength of his God. There can be no better or more positive determination than that, and no more well-founded and realistic determination than that. “God is our refuge and strength”. When we look round the world and the nations at the present time we can make no greater resolution than Habakkuk’s.

 

Bob Dunnett

HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!

At the very heart of the Christian faith is the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Whatever else we may believe about Jesus, if we have not grasped this truth in our hearts we do not have an authentic faith, indeed our faith is meaningless. Paul the Apostle made this point very clearly when he wrote to the Corinthian church: “if Christ has not been raised’ our preaching is useless and so is your faith”;if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). For Paul all hope of sins forgiven and resurrection to glory is pinned on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, bodily and actually. Our faith can never be reduced to a moral code, no matter how crucially important it is for humanity to live by a moral law. It is much bigger than that. The resurrection speaks directly of the need of a new dynamic that makes genuine moral living possible, and provides that dynamic. It also speaks, on a much bigger canvas, of God’s ultimate purpose for humanity in a resurrection after death and in a redeemed new creation, human and natural.

What this means for us as Christians is that we need to have a grasp of this truth at the deepest level and not settle for an uncertain acquiescence in an inherited doctrinal formula. We need to walk increasingly in the reality of this truth and we must constantly wipe away anything that dulls a clear apprehension of it and robs us of the warmth, joy and hope that it releases in our spirit. There is nothing more releasing and heart-warming than a personal knowledge of eternal life to come (and thankfully, not in this world!)

It is good to know, however, that in grasping this truth we are not simply left to believe in the resurrection of Jesus as a matter of blind faith, as many people, Christians included, often suppose. The contrary is true. There are very definite ways in which we can know that Jesus is indeed alive and walking with us. We need to be aware of these different ways and learn to walk in the assurance that they bring. These ways are focused on what we can and should be experiencing of the risen Jesus in our lives now, and they are clearly demonstrated in the gospel stories of how Jesus revealed his resurrected presence to his disciples. They are not focused on any historical discussion of evidences for the resurrection. I have space to comment on only two of these ways on this blog, but in due course there will time I hope to comment on others.

On the afternoon of the resurrection two disciples were walking to the village of Emmaus. The crucifixion and the reported events around the tomb of Jesus earlier that day had left them completely bruised and perplexed. As they discussed these events Jesus drew near, and without revealing his identity entered into their conversation. He then proceeded to give them what was in effect a bible study, taking them through all the Old Testament scriptures which prophesied and explained the need of his death and resurrection. The length of the journey was limited, but the time spent on it was not; it was clearly a very exhaustive, engaging and profound study. When they had reached Emmaus they pressed him to stay for a meal and he agreed. His identity was still unknown to the disciples. At some point Jesus took bread and pointedly broke it before them. As he broke the bread they realised who he was, and he disappeared. Instantly they reversed their steps to Jerusalem to share with the apostles what had happened.

The interesting question here is why he kept his identity hidden from them until he had given them the bible study and broken the bread? It becomes more interesting in the light of the fact that later on the same evening he appeared to the apostles and followed an exactly opposite sequence. On that evening the apostles were together and actually listening to the two disciples sharing their experience on the Emmaus road when Jesus simply appeared in their midst. It was an immediate, direct, physical and recognisable appearance. For a moment they thought they were seeing some kind of spirit, but Jesus quickly showed them that he was indeed Jesus, raised from the dead. He let them touch and feel him, and actually ate food with them. Thus they came in the most direct and literal of ways face to face with the resurrected Jesus bodily. All the doubts and confusion that had accumulated during the day gave way to mingled joy and amazement. Having physically established his identity, Jesus then went on to turn their attention from his physical presence to the Scriptures. He showed them from Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms all the prophetic Scriptures that spoke of himself; his ministry, his death, his resurrection and his future intentions for all the nations.

It is not merely an interesting matter as to why he should have chosen to keep his identity concealed in the afternoon encounter, but a very instructive matter. After Jesus had disappeared so suddenly  at the supper and the two disciples were discussing between themselves what had happened to them on the journey to Emmaus, they agreed on one thing: “were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us”. “Burning” is a very expressive word! As they had listened to Jesus the revelation, relevance and truth of the Scriptures literally seemed to have been inwardly setting them on fire with new light and understanding; Jesus’ exposition was giving the disciples the answers they so desperately needed to hear and giving them so clearly and powerfully. In this they were learning a crucial lesson for the future; Jesus could make the scriptures relevant in the most astounding way. He could make truth that was buried, so to speak, become intensely alive. Jesus would eventually ascend into heaven and would no more be seen, but the scriptures would remain and his ability through his Spirit to make them “burn” would also remain. The lesson was that they needed now to look to the Scriptures and gain strength and wisdom through them and trust him to bring light to them through his Spirit. This was not something that would be given to everybody, but it would certainly be given to those who loved him and followed him.

Perhaps one of the greatest comforts that followers of Jesus have had through the centuries is that of reading the scriptures and finding that from time to time they do actually burn very deeply into the heart, especially at times when, like those two disciples, we are downcast, perplexed, distressed or in need of some wisdom. At all times the scriptures strengthen and illuminate, but there are special moments when, through the Holy Spirit, they have that extraordinary “Jesus touch”; they “burn”. When we experience these moments it is no human imagining at work but a divine reminder of a living Saviour who himself laid such extraordinary weight on the importance of Scripture speaking to us. He is still the living Jesus of the Emmaus road.

A further and complementary thought, however, to contemplate. Why did Jesus choose at Emmaus to reveal himself through the breaking of bread at a very simple homely meal? Why, on the first day of his resurrection, did he pick up so obviously on something that he had made the centre of his last supper meal with his disciples?  Amongst other things, he was obviously making it clear that they were not to forget what he had told them to do. He was investing the breaking of bread with great importance – he was making it a medium of revealing his presence. Perhaps we should seek to be rather more aware of that fact and look more for his “touch” as we “do this in remembrance of Him”. Jesus as healer has again and again made himself known in the breaking of bread.

The scriptures and the breaking of bread are pathways to experiencing a living Jesus. They need to be approached with expectation!

Bob Dunnett

 

JOY and TEARS – The Approach to Easter

What a wonderful time Easter is! Spring lambs, longer days, first buds, and here in the South West masses of incredibly colourful daffodils. But, of course, the real glory is undoubtedly in the Easter story: a panorama of the most momentous events in the life of Jesus. It’s a prime time for meditation and reflection. So I thought for this blog I would reflect on the beginning of that Easter story. This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, bringing us the first act of that great Easter drama and a particular relevance to the main theme of this web-site. As Luke records, it has two distinct phases or pictures; the first involves much rejoicing, the second involves profound tears. Generally we tend to speak of the first (and why not!) but neglect the second. It is important, however, to look at both.

Jesus began the Palm Sunday proceedings in what was a truly dramatic manner. He took the colt of a donkey, sat on it and proceeded to ride into Jerusalem. In so doing he was making a clear and open prophetic statement; he was Israel’s king and Messiah, and he was fulfilling the word of Zechariah, “See your king comes to you … lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). He was surrounded by a crowd of disciples. What followed during that ride was an intolerable affront to the religious establishment, but a matter of great joy to his disciples. Both parties, it would appear were much aware of the implications of what Jesus was doing.

The crowd of disciples added something important to the fulfilment of the word of Zechariah, for that word included the call to “Rejoice greatly”. The crowd was a very large crowd, so Matthew tells us, and it was immensely exuberant and did indeed rejoice greatly! They people threw their coats on the road before the donkey, they spread palm branches on the road and they were shouting out aloud with great affirmations of their king Messiah, “Hosanna to the Son of David”. Like King David of old, they may well have danced and leapt!  It was enough to cause a great stir in the city, with people wanting to know who this person on the donkey was. On reflection this huge, unprecedented burst of praise seems clearly to have been something more than a purely human response; the jubilation has all the hallmarks of the presence of the Spirit of God on it. God was there in that great crowd adding his witness to his Son.

Luke tells us what was at the heart of their rejoicing, “They began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen” (Lk 19:37). Most of them were probably from Galilee where Jesus had done most of his miracles. They were “disciples” who had come to believe on Jesus and follow him (they were not the crowd which bellowed later in the week for Jesus’ death!). They had felt the healing touch of Jesus in many different ways, and had found new life, joy and forgiveness in following him. The Messiah they had longed for had come, and they had found him to be a man of the people, a man of righteousness, and a man of compassion, tenderness and love. Doubtless they would be sharing and strengthening each other with their experiences of Jesus, what they had seen him do and what he had done for them individually. What a wonderful pointer this occasion was to the nature of the church that Jesus would later establish; it was an embryonic glimpse of the joy, grace and peace Jesus would bring to those who would follow him in the generations to follow. It would have been a wonderful experience to have been part of it.

At that point we tend to stop the story, but Luke does not. He goes on to record that in the midst of all this acclamation and rejoicing Jesus began to weep as he approached the city. The tears were not tears of joy, but of profound sadness. Perhaps we stop at that point because the tears seem to get in the way of the upbeat rejoicing. We want to stay with the rejoicing, to go on with our acclamations of His glorious grace and kingship. Maybe Jesus felt the same! Why should he bring a sad note into such happy positive occasion? Why spoil the party with anything sombre, especially the sort of sombre warning that was to accompany the tears? Why not go straight on with the unsullied witness of that great praise march?

Well, we have to ask why the tears. Jesus was to die on a cross within days, but he was not crying on that account. The tears started to flow as he rode down from the Mount of Olives and saw Jerusalem spread out before him. The tears were for the city and what he knew was going to happen to it. The Messiah King, most likely stopping the donkey at this point, suddenly spoke prophetically over the city, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” Lk. 19:42-44. This was a devastating, unrelenting prophecy of judgement, seemingly at a most inappropriate moment, in the middle of a praise meeting,! I wonder what those nearby who heard it made of it? It was not something they would want to hear (no one likes to hear of judgement!), and the message seemed no doubt utterly bizarre, even outrageous; the destruction of Jerusalem? Impossible! Even if it were true, who would want to hear it at that point of triumphal witness to the city? Without question, however, it was a moment of revelation and prompting of the Holy Spirit. In the natural Jesus knew that already the religious leaders were planning his death, and he knew they would succeed. The city would reject his witness. In the Spirit he knew that a judgement was decreed. His tears were for what that would mean for the people of Jerusalem. He was crying for them in their blindness, crying for what they were to bring on themselves.

So we have a devastating word of judgement accompanied by tears from the Messiah who is the Prince of peace and the King of love! What a seemingly impossible combination and contradiction. The tears were, of course, genuine. The pain and heart break were deeply felt; the sadness was evident. The love he has for the people, even the people who were to reject him, was revealed very clearly in those tears even whilst he prophesied. His heart longed for their peace, and he wanted desperately to give it to them. There is not the slightest hint of any cheap vengeance here for what the people of the city would do to him. He is not eager to give them their “just deserts”. He is not thirsting for vengeance, In fact the last thing he wanted was to see judgement come. There is no hardness in his eyes, no brutality in his heart to those who will ill treat him. He weeps in distress for them, for the choice they have made and for what it will inevitably bring upon them.

Jesus reflects perfectly here the heart of his Father. God is a God of love, desperately concerned in his love to bring peace to people, even to the point of giving over Jesus to die for them in order to bring them into fellowship with him. God weeps over those who reject him, for in their rejection of him they put themselves outside of his protection and grace. Indeed the proclamation of judgement is itself designed to challenge them to repentance and to adopt the way to peace; it is not a condemnation without hope! It is with that in mind that Jesus later in the week more than once faced the Scribes and Pharisees with parables of judgement simply to show them the way of blessing.

The rejection of God in general and his purpose in Jesus in particular constitutes the greatest damage humanity can inflict on itself: it is the way to lose everything that makes life worth living. The acceptance of the living God and Jesus constitutes and releases the greatest blessing humanity we can have, a blessing that extends beyond this life. God longs to save, but people must choose. When a nation increasingly rejects God there can be only one outcome, and ours, amongst others, is moving fast in that direction.

At a personal level, I really have no desire to “spoil the party”. I have known and been blessed by the Spirit of praise and rejoicing for nearly sixty years. It’s a wonderful place to be in. I dwell in it and constantly seek to encourage others into it. But the Spirit has other promptings I’m afraid, and they must be spoken, and listened to, especially, perhaps when they are warnings.

Bob